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Verner column: Racing story fuels fear of change

It’s not often that fuel-air mixtures make for jaw-dropping headlines.
But my chin was scraping the linoleum last week after I read a sports article about NASCAR “exploring” a switch from carburetor-fed engines to fuel injection. While race fans will immediately grasp the cosmic significance of this idea, those of you who don’t know a carburetor from a can opener might be mystified as to what it means, or why it’s worthy of comment.
From a mechanical standpoint, all you really need to know is that both devices perform the same function ó delivering fuel to the engine. But they are literally from different centuries in terms of technology.
The carburetor has been around in basic form since the late 19th century (circa 1885) and is relatively primative and imprecise ó like Barney Frank’s description of health-care reform.
Although fuel injection technology dates to 1910, the computer-controlled systems used on modern cars are marvels of efficiency, metering out mists of fuel vapor correlated to the demands being placed on the engine. The difference between the two technologies is comparable to that between a scrub board and a modern, programmable washing machine.
In case you still don’t get why the shift to fuel injection would be a big deal, let me translate this into terms a local layman might understand:
It’s as if an upscale restaurant like La Cava announced that henceforth all entrees will be microwaved and served on paper plates.
It’s like Historic Salisbury Inc. declaring that all restored houses must have purple vinyl siding, neon street numbers and pink flamingos on the lawn.
It’s like the Rowan County Board of Commissioners inviting Smokeout to come back ó and use the J. Newton Cohen room as party central.
It’s like Sheriff George Wilhelm endorsing the legalization of marijuana ó and putting his deputies in Priuses.
It’s like Jim Sides announcing that, instead of offering a Christian prayer to open government meetings, we should all bow three times toward Mecca.
It is, in short, a radical restructuring of the world order as we know it.
Frankly, as something of a traditionalist, I find this proposed change is fueling my anxiety level, which hasn’t yet gotten used to seeing Toyotas banging fenders with Fords or hearing the words “Juan Pablo Montoya” uttered in the same breath as “20-car pileup in turn four.” For me, stock-car racing is much more a scrub-board endeavor, which is part of its brute charm.
If NASCAR officials can carburetors in favor of fuel injection, you wonder what other sacrileges are being contemplated in the name of modernization and efficiency. What’s next? Will they mandate that all stock cars must be equipped with GPS systems and on-board Ethernet? What about air conditioning and remote-control door locks?
Are they going to ban the post-race burnout and instead encourage winning drivers to celebrate by updating their FaceBook pages and sending Twitter alerts to fans: “Am now standing in winner’s circle. OMG! Race queen really HOT!”
And if NASCAR modernizes its fuel-management system, what about the spillover into other sports? What gut-wrenching updates will take place in other arenas?
Will Major League Baseball approve the use of aluminum bats ó and adopt hourly digitized updates of the number of players who’ve failed drug tests? (No wonder Major Leaguers have such high net worths; they’re basically pharmaceutical warehouses in protective cups.)
Will the NFL allow Brett Favre to make yet another comeback sometime in the future, at age 70 or so, when he’s had a couple of titanium hip replacements and must use a “Miracle Ear” to hear the hike count?
Will the PGA tour ban the use of electric golf carts and order players and caddies to traverse the fairways on Segways? Or decide the green Masters jacket should give way to an understated earth tone?
Will Wimbledon enter the 21st century by converting its grass-covered courts to Astroturf ó and adopting a new “tie break” system in which players compete with light sabers instead of rackets?
This is the problem with upending the traditional order of things. You never know where it will end. One day, the lords of racing are considering eliminating carburetors from stock-car engines. Next thing you know, they’ll be banning former bootleggers from the new NASCAR Hall of Fame.
– – –
Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.

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